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Weekend Headlines for December 16-17, 2017

Kansas Lawmaker Seeks Review of Ex-Commerce Secretary's Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democratic state senator is asking the Kansas Legislature's audit division to evaluate whether a former commerce secretary followed state law and procedure in awarding agency consulting contracts and when charging business expenses. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley told the Topeka Capital-Journal on Friday that the Legislature's oversight committee was expected to authorize the review of Antonio Soave, who led the Kansas Department of Commerce for about 18 months until June. Governor Sam Brownback, who appointed Soave, had praised Soave when he left the administration. But the governor's office later confirmed Soave was fired partly over questions about state contracts. Soave has defended the agency's consulting contracts. The Kansas City Star first reported that at least nine Soave associates landed contracts during Soave's 18 months as secretary.


Kansas Churches Offer 'Blue Christmas' Services

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Several Kansas churches are trying to meet the needs of people struggling emotionally this holiday season by offering Blue Christmas worship services. The Wichita Eagle reports that Blue Christmas services tend to be more subdued and sometimes reflect on themes of loss and hope. The Reverend Mari Larson is the senior pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church  in Wichita. His church's Blue Christmas service will include communion and quieter holiday music. Larson says "Christmas just feels alien" to those struggling with depression or loss. Dr. Matthew Macaluso is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Macaluso says offering Blue Christmas worship services can help people acknowledge difficulty in a time of year where cold weather and less sunlight contribute to depression.


Kansas Man Offering Free Christmas Trees

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man is spreading holiday cheer by giving free Christmas trees to people in need. The News-Press reports that Rex Powell is inviting people onto his land about 10 miles southwest of Lawrence to pick out the perfect tree. Visitors can then chop down the tree themselves and bring it home free of charge. Powell has lived at Burton's Hollow for decades. The retired science teacher lives there with his wife and three cats. He was a teacher for nearly three decades. Powell says he wants to share nature with those who visit his property. Powell is encouraging people to donate a small sum to a local animal shelter where he got his three cats.


Chairman of Kansas Utility Commission Not Seeking Second Term

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The commission that regulates utilities in Kansas will be getting a new member next year. Kansas Corporation Commission Chairman Pat Apple has announced that he won't seek reappointment to another four-year term. Apple's current term expires in March. Apple says he plans to return to a private construction business that he and his wife started in 1983. He also says early announcement will give the governor time to find a replacement before his time expires. Republican Governor Sam Brownback appointed Apple to the three-member commission in 2014. Fellow commissioners named him chairman in January. Apple previously served in the state Senate nine years and was the chairman of its Utilities Commission when he resigned to join the KCC.


Democratic Lawmaker Running for Kansas Secretary of State

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A veteran Democratic lawmaker is running for Kansas secretary of state next year. State Senator Marci Francisco of Lawrence has appointed a treasurer for her  campaign so that she can legally accept contributions. The 67-year-old Francisco is the second Democrat in the race. The other is 17-year-old high school senior Lucy Steyer of Lenexa. Francisco was first elected to the Senate in 2004 and has served on its elections committee in the past. She is a former Lawrence mayor. Kansas state Representatives Scott Schwab and Keith Esau of Olathe are seeking the Republican nomination along with state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold. Republican incumbent Kris Kobach is running for governor.


UMKC engineering center construction to begin next summer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials with the University of Missouri-Kansas City say students will soon have access to state-of-the-art 3-D technology, analytics labs and other innovations provided by a $32 million education and research center on the university's Volker campus. The Kansas City Star reports that UMKC will start construction on the expansion of the School of Computing and Engineering by late summer 2018. The new building would house virtual reality equipment, 3-D printing, data, and high-bay structural labs, a clean room and an electron microscope. Construction is expected to conclude before the fall 2020 semester. The project was approved by the University of Missouri Board of Curators earlier this month and will be funded by university foundation dollars as well as private donations.


Tribes Oppose Bioterror Tests near Kansas-Oklahoma Border

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Five Native American tribes that own an Oklahoma site where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security intends to conduct bioterrorism drills next year now oppose the government's plan. The Oklahoma-based Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes says the federal agency didn't inform the five tribes that it was releasing "potentially dangerous substances" on grounds where more than 100 children are buried. The council released a statement this past week opposing the tests. The site outside of Newkirk, Oklahoma, was a federally run Indian boarding school. It operated from the late 1800s until 1980. The tribes consider the land to be sacred because of the cemetery. The government insists the chemicals it wants to use are harmless.


DA: No Charges Filed in Alleged Assault at KU Dorm

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The local prosecutor does not plan to file sexual assault charges over a report that a 16-year-old girl was raped in December 2016 in the dorm housing the Kansas men's basketball team. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson's office said Friday in a statement that it does not have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a sexual assault occurred. The statement also said the investigation did not identify a suspect. Branson said his office still may file misdemeanor, alcohol-related charges. The university police report from the incident said rape, contributing to a child's misconduct and furnishing alcohol to a minor were reported and allegedly occurred at the dorm. Five players were listed as witnesses, though police have said that did not necessarily mean they were eyewitnesses.


KC Boy Delivers Homemade Gifts to Police

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A 6-year-old Kansas boy is spreading Christmas joy to police in the Kansas City area, delivering more than 300 homemade ornaments to show thanks for their service. The Kansas City Star reports that Brandi Davis has joined her son, Oliver, in stopping at various police departments since Dec. 5 to surprise officers with heart-shaped ornaments, all personally signed by Oliver with a message that includes: "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all you do to keep us safe." Oliver delivers the gifts from his wagon, and he's already made stops at several suburban Kansas City departments, including the one in Overland Park, where the family lives. Oliver is already an honorary Leawood officer, after setting up a free stand of doughnuts and lemonade for police.


Man Pleads Guilty to Kidnapping, Raping JoCo Deputy

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Blue Springs, Missouri, man has pleaded guilty to kidnapping and raping a sheriff's deputy in Johnson County, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that 25-year-old William Luth will face a recommended sentence of more than 40 years in prison after entering the plea Friday. A second suspect, Brady Newman-Caddell, is due in court Thursday. The attack happened in October 2016 outside the Johnson County Detention Center in Olathe. The female deputy testified at a preliminary hearing in February that she was on her way to work when a man punched her and forced her into a vehicle, where another man was in the driver's seat. The deputy testified she was attacked by both men. Authorities say DNA testing was among the evidence linking the men to the crime.


Florida Company Considers Wind Farm in Reno County

HAVEN, Kan. (AP) — A Florida energy company is considering an area in south-central Kansas for a potential wind farm. The Hutchinson News reports that more than 100 people attended NextEra Energy's open house this week in Haven. Many residents went to the event to check if their property fell within the approximately 29,000 acres NextEra is looking at. The company is proposing a 200- to 300-megawatt wind farm containing about 100 wind turbines. Project Director Sam Massey says the industry standard is about $4,500 a year per megawatt in payments to area landowners. Landowners can also receive money for using their land to store or transmit energy from the turbines. NextEra currently operates six wind projects in Kansas. The company makes money by selling its energy to wholesale companies like Westar Energy.


First Woman Joins Crowded 2018 Race for Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The first woman to enter the 2018 governor's race in Kansas joins a crowded field of men seeking to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Democratic State Senator Laura Kelly becomes the 22nd candidate to launch a campaign or appoint a treasurer. Twelve Republicans, seven Democrats and three independents are in the race. The 67-year-old has served in the Senate since 2005. Kelly is the top Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is highly visible in budget and tax debates. She is a leading critic of the Brownback administration, including its oversight of the state's foster care system and Medicaid programs and a proposal from the state Department of Corrections for a private company to build a new prison in Lansing.


Kansas Congress Candidate Drops Out over 2005 Harassment Suit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A female former executive running for Congress in Kansas has dropped out of the race over a 2005 federal lawsuit accusing her of sexually harassing a male employee whom she supervised. Andrea Ramsey called the allegations that she harassed and retaliated against Gary Funkhouser "a lie" in a Facebook post Friday announcing the end of her campaign. Ramsey was seeking the Democratic nomination in the Kansas City-area 3rd District and hoped to challenge incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder next year. She said the national Democratic Party declined to support her over the lawsuit, filed by Funkhouser against Kansas City-area company LabOne. Ramsey was a vice president, and Funkhouser said he was fired after rebuffing her sexual advances. Court records show the case was dismissed after settlement talks in 2006.


Kansas' Interim Commerce Secretary Stepping Down

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' interim commerce secretary is stepping down, the latest departure from Governor Sam Brownback's administration. Brownback on Friday announced Jordan's resignation. A replacement was not immediately named. Jordan is among several officials to leave the administration as Brownback waits to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a job in President Donald Trump's administration. Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore and Department for Health and Environment Secretary Susan Mosier also left. Jordan is a former state senator who has also served as revenue secretary and CEO of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors. He stepped into the role of commerce secretary when Antonio Soave resigned in June, two weeks after a business partner filed a lawsuit against him.


Acting DCF Secretary Concerned about Discrimination Claims

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The acting secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families says allegations that the agency discriminates against gay and lesbian couples are concerning, and she pledged a "zero tolerance" policy. The Wichita Eagle reports that Gina Meier-Hummel on Friday made a sharp break from her predecessor, Phyllis Gilmore, who dismissed allegations of discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption and foster care cases. State auditors released a survey of attorneys who deal with the child welfare system. About 35 percent said gay and lesbian parents are not treated the same as other parents. Meier-Hummel told a legislative committee reviewing the survey that she will have "zero tolerance for any violation of the law." DCF came under scrutiny in 2015 amid multiple allegations that it discriminated against same-sex couples.


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